Orkut, a once-dominant social networking website, shuts down today, but it leaves a flood of memories for many Indians. Brazil and India had the largest population of Orkut users until the ascent of Facebook relegated its predecessor into irrelevance. Facebook began to rise in popularity in India in 2008, six years ago.

Yet, the news of Orkut’s imminent closure rekindled old memories, reminiscent of the time spent in college canteens, perhaps. Scraps? Remember scraps? Those were the notes friends wrote on each other’s Orkut pages.

It was a time when we knew what Orkut meant (after its eponymous founder and former Google employee, Orkut Büyükkökten). And it was also a time when social networking was still considered a teenage activity. Remember that long-lost past when parents would never dream of checking up on their children through a website – would have no idea how to go about it, in fact?

It was also a place where friendships that survive today have been built. It was also the first place online where you could find childhood friends that you thought were long gone from your life.

When the announcement of Orkut's imminent demise was made a few months ago, there are some funny responses it garnered from Indians on Twitter.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic activity on Orkut was the message and discussion boards, the political groups and the trolling. Orkut thus resulted in the internet's early encounters with law in India, long before the current internet censorship regime had been put in place. In 2009, the Supreme Court denied legal protection to a 19-year old, Ajith D, in Kerala, who was charged with posting death threats on an “anti-Shiv Sena” community page he had created on Orkut. He was arrested.

Yet, by August 2010, according to a comScore report, the writing was on the wall. Facebook had overtaken Orkut as the most used social networking website in India. For a brief while, there was a veritable Facebook and Orkut divide. The former looked down on the latter. Moving from Orkut to Facebook was like moving up the class ladder. Those still enthusiastic about Orkut were labelled 'Orkutiyas'. The term 'Orkutiya' also became social media lingo to describe the sort of person who wanted to “make friendship” – an internet euphemism for soliciting a romantic liaison – online. Here's a gem:

‘This is not a job application’

“Vide my earlier scraps, I proposed u for friendship, but till date
i received no response from ur gud side.
Now, i am again sending my proposal for making friendship with
you. If u want to do friendship with me, accept my proposal
respond please.
Hope for acceptance of the same.”
[From here.]

It may come as a surprise that even today, 20% of Orkut's active users today are from India. Fifty per cent still come from Brazil, by far the largest contributor.

The reason Orkut succeeded in India in those days, and the reason why it will be remembered, is that for Indian youth it was the first real foray into any kind of online social networking. It helped that it worked well on slow internet speeds. But Facebook soon took over, arriving from the United States with plenty of hype and a cleaner and sleeker format than Orkut. Facebook also let you do a lot of things Orkut didn’t back then, such as tagging friends on photographs.

“Over the past decade, YouTube, Blogger and Google+ have taken off, with communities springing up in every corner of the world,” said Google in a blogpost, avoiding mention of Orkut’s real killer rival, Facebook. Orkut won’t be functional after 30 September, but users will have until September 2016 to retrieve years’ worth of memories.